Chris Layton took me to school once. I remember a band, name withheld to protect some perfectly good musicians, that had some great songs and a great live show. I made a point of seeing them again the next time I was in Texas— and this time Chris was on the drums.
Everything was different this time. It was as if an alien energy ray had blasted the club. Everything— the music, the band, the crowd— was on a higher octane level. The band members looked as if they were going to vibrate right off of the stage from the sheer intensity of the music. I actually feared for them.
A year later, I saw the same band. Everyone was playing the same notes, same songs, but no Chris. It was like some air had been let out of their tires. No dishonor to the other musicians, the club, the songwriting… but I had just received an object lesson in where the fire comes from.
Chris’ early life reads like an old blues song: picking cotton, hopping trains, setting out for Austin with just his drums and a couple hundred dollars to his name, and playing for tips. He eventually crossed paths with Stevie Ray Vaughan, who recognized that fire; Chris was the drummer for Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble until Vaughan’s tragic death in 1990. The trio sold twelve million records, won four Grammy awards, and influenced a generation of blues musicians. This year they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The blues are still a part of Chris and Chris is still raising the energy level — You can hear it in the work he has done with The Arc Angels, Storyville, Grady, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Susan Tedeschi and, most recently, Blues guitar prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
As for that object lesson, anyone who can make such a difference in the sound of a band is onto something. A “something” that makes the difference between a good drummer and a great one. I am hoping we can get some clues about that “something” from the music that he has brought tonight— Welcome to Drummeradio, Chris!
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Chris Layton Playlist
Love Struck Baby — Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
Album: First Thunder bootleg, 1979
Drums: Chris Layton
Stratus — Billy Cobham
Album: Spectrum, 1973
Drums: Billy Cobham
Honest I Do — Jimmy Reed
Album: I’m Jimmy Reed, 1959
Drums: Earl Phillips
Actual Proof — Herbie Hancock
Drums: Mike Clark
Hey Joe — Jimi Hendrix
Album: Are You Experienced, 1967
Drums: Mitch Mitchell
Cissy Strut — The Meters
Album: The Meters, 1969
Drums: Zigaboo Modeliste
The Big Payback — James Brown
Album: The Payback, 1973
Drums: Jabo Starks
Kodachrome — Paul Simon
Album: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973
Drums: Roger Hawkins
Funky Walk — Dyke and the Blazers
Drums: James Gadson
Sno-Cone Part II — Albert Collins
Album: The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins, 1965
Reissued: Truckin’ With Albert Collins, 1969
Drums: Michael Huey
Crossfire — Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Album: In Step, 1989
Drums: Chris Layton